While browsing the Amazon Appstore, I came across a limited-time offer for the Super WHY! new Android app for $0.99. Super WHY! is a show on PBS Kids that helps little kids understand phonics. While I think the show does a good job teaching children to be compassionate – for example, in one episode, the characters cheered for Humpty Dumpty so that he could come down from the wall on a slide – I don’t appreciate the way the show dismantles classic stories by converting perceived bads to perceived goods. I believe there is value in exposing children to the darker things in the real world.


The four mini-games in the app featuring the show’s characters are designed to train players in the areas of alphabet recognition, spelling, rhyming, and reading comprehension. The graphics are adorable and inviting, and the controls are straight-forward and intuitive. Players either tap on the screen to make a selection, or they follow the animation to learn to write. With each successful game, players are rewarded a “sticker” for their virtual sticker book, which they can “stick” on a variety of backgrounds to create amusing scenes, especially when the goat is involved.

In addition to being an educational tool for literacy skills, the app is a fun continuation of and complement to the show. The material is taken directly from the show so the app serves as a refresher. In particular, the reading comprehension mini-game refers to stories told in the show, so children must watch the show in order to win and earn stickers. What a great way to keep a young audience interested and engaged!

The app did not keep my attention for long. But for the short time that I played the games, I enjoyed the mini adrenaline rushes that came with the reassurance that I am smarter than a preschooler!







What is the call-to-action of this ad? Doing Kung Fu on your bed!?

I thought the code looked simple. But being the mobile enthusiast that I am, without thinking twice, I pulled out my phone to scan the code.

The reader could not recognize the code. I looked closer, and it said “Use this augmented reality code at”.Velux2




I fired up the website on my phone and found that it was not at all optimized for mobile. It was written in Flash, and the site took forever to load. When it finally finished loading, I could not tell what was on it because the images were way too big for my phone screen. Worse yet, the site completely ignored my scrolling, so I could not even tell what the deal was with this AR campaign.

Taking the hint and moving on would have saved me the embarrassment. But no, I assumed the marketers at VELUX did not know what they were doing, and went through the exercise again on my laptop.

It turned out this was not a mobile campaign! I was supposed to scan the AR code with a webcam! To VELUX’s credit, it did not say “Use your smartphone to scan the augmented reality code”. But in this day and age, I could hardly be blamed for mistaking the cryptic black and white box for a tag that my phone can understand. (Or could I?)

To participate, you hold the ad in front of the webcam, and tilt it left and right to see a 3D scene at different angles. Like this:



There was no practical purpose to this ad, and it was a stretch to call it augmented reality. The ad merely served as a joystick of sorts to rotate the 3D scene – and an ineffective one at that. No reality was being augmented here. VELUX would have been better off using the ad to unlock the scene, and then let me move around with the mouse or keyboard.

The anticipation was where the excitement ended. I thought about how much the ad must have cost VELUX as well as how much the company  must mark up its products to afford such a campaign AND turn a profit, and the disappointment was enough for me to dismiss the brand.

It is clear that VELUX has a team of silly marketers. But it appears MCDM has one, too. It serves me right for shooting my tag reader at every ad I see before reading the fine print.

Westlake Center

As a mall, I think the Westlake Center is pretty lame. If my comfort food were not served in the food court, I would have no business there. When I went there on Sunday, I came across an ad for the Westlake Center mobile app. I thought to myself, what does a lame mall like Westlake need with an app? I also thought, instead of building its own app, Westlake should have partnered with Point Inside and saved some money.

I texted ”App” to 50304 and received a response that linked me to a WAP page for more information and the app. As it turns out, the app was developed by General Growth Properties, the management company of Westlake. It covers all the malls in the US that are also managed by this company.

Downloading and installing the app was easy enough. When I fired it up, it did not know my location, so I attempted to look for Westlake using the search function, except it didn’t respond at all.

I then located Westlake by zooming in on the map. Once I had chosen the mall, the app asked me if I want to receive email notifications. It did not disclose what information it would be sending me. So, as a rule, I declined the offer.

The app shows six categories:

  1. In-store sales;
  2. Where to find food;
  3. Events at Westlake;
  4. Mall directory;
  5. About the Westlake Center (address and hours, etc.);
  6. Mall Map.

General Growth Properties did partner with Point Inside for the mall map, which piqued my interest in a side-by-side comparison of the two mall apps. The GGP app shall henceforth be referred to as “The Club”.

Both apps display the same in-store sales and mall events. The information on the mall itself is also comparable. But Point Inside does not carry the mall directory or a directory of the food vendors, either one of which is more important to me than the mall map.

One thing that really annoys me about The Club is that it asks if I want to receive email notifications every time I start the app or switch mall. I have a feeling that it won’t stop until I say yes or indicate that I am already a member. How hard is it to design an app that remembers the user’s one preference? Surely some people may want to know what is happening at the Westlake Center but not the Alderwood Mall. A better way to handle this is to give users a choice to opt in to all email notifications, notifications only about their preferred malls, or no notifications at all.

If you’re absentminded like me, you panic when you’re done shopping because you have no recollection of where you parked. Point Inside has a Car Finder feature, which is a nifty tool that leads you back to your car if and when it works. It disappointed me when I needed its assistance in Portland on March 6.

I don’t actually have any use for a mall app. But if I must choose between The Club and Point Inside, I’d pick the latter simply because I cannot be bothered to hunt down the management company or an app for every mall I visit. Keep in mind The Club is only good for malls that are managed by General Growth Properties, while Point Inside has information on malls and airports across North America as well as over 30 airports internationally.

At the end of the day, this is more of a turtle race than a deathmatch. Both apps are rough around the edges, and neither is exciting enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Over one billion people on the planet have no access to clean water.

This year, Levi’s has partnered with to raise awareness of global water issues; and on March 22 – World Water Day – it launched an app that promotes its Water<Less jeans, which are manufactured with a new technique that uses less water.Levis

Levi’s plans to donate $250,000, or the equivalent of 200 million liters of water, to Levi’s also says that I could “participate by  completing simple tasks that help [me and my friends] save water and earn liters.” All I had to do “to help bring clean drinking water to communities around the water” was scan the QR code! Now I had no idea what “WaterTank” meant. But when it comes to solving global crises, I am as enthusiastic as the next guy. Naturally I scanned the QR code without thinking twice.


AND…I regretted my enthusiasm as soon as I scanned the QR. “Log in to earn your WaterTank Liters!” Again, what is WaterTank? How would I earn water by logging in? What would I be getting myself into by logging in with my Facebook credentials? Being the cautious person that I am, the lack of any useful information on the landing page was enough to steer me away.

I later located the Water<Less Facebook tab and watched the video that was supposed to explain what WaterTank is. WaterTank is a game. Participants complete simple “water-saving” challenges like pledging to conserve and helping Levi’s and spread the word. They can also track their impact and compete against their friends to see who can donate the most. It says in the video that “It’s simple! The more you do, the more you help.” It even showed on the tab that water unlocked was in the millions of liters! I desperately wanted to help further the cause. However, it remained unclear to me how I could contribute through playing the WaterTank game.

Upon further digging, I found an article on Ecouterre that clarified the mystery. Participants do not actually accomplish anything by playing WaterTank. The “liters unlocked” is essentially a meaningless number. The creator of WaterTank claimed that the campaign was one-third of the way to its 200 million-gallon goal only six days after its launch. While I appreciate the initiative, I doubt the stickiness of the pledges. The number is probably much lower in reality, and there is no way to track the result (number of gallons of water saved).

With over 50,000 page views and more than 20,000 challenges completed in its first 72 hours, WaterTank is undeniably a successful campaign. To me, however, it feels more like a shameless marketing scam that makes money on an important issue, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Read to Save


Traveling to Seattle from Pennsylvania after Thanksgiving, I had a layover in Denver. In the Denver International Airport, there was an advertisement by FirstBank with three QR codes on it.

The codes take you to three webpages where you can download three classics: Emma by Jane Austen; Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau; and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

I pondered the relationship between reading and saving. It’s quite deep: If you’re home reading, then you’re not out spending money. Hmm…On second thought, maybe they just want you to save a few bucks at the airport bookstore.

Their links work, and this is FirstBank’s first attempt at mobile marketing, too. Judging by their other advertisements, I conclude that FirstBank has a team of marketers who may actually take their jobs seriously.

What can I say? If you have been reading my blog, you know how many QR codes are put out there – by people from watchmaker to computer manufacturer to the Captains of the QR Code galaxy – that do not work. I am not picky at this point.

Being a Seattlelite without a smartphone, I always feel a bit like a dinosaur. But when some passersby watched me curiously as I scanned the QR codes, I was reminded that the majority of the rest of the country does not care about having internet access at all times, much less smartphones, and QR codes.

As far as telling time goes, your $35 Timex does just as well as a $4,000,000 Patek Phillippe. Like expensive cars, however, expensive watches have long been a symbol of prestige; and those who could afford them, would. The rest of us would just have to settle for "wearing" them through augmented reality.

Girard-Perregaux is letting consumers "try on" its products using augmented reality in its new iPhone app. Eight men’s watches from four of GP’s collections, including their famous Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges, and one women’s watch are displayed in the app. Users can "try on" each of them, one at a time, by holding their wrist in front of the camera to see the watch superimposed on it. The size and placement of the watch can be adjusted manually for a better idea of how it would actually look on one’s wrist.

Unfortunately, I have no access to an iPhone so I cannot comment on the app’s augmented reality feature. However, I have used the app with an iPad and have enjoyed reading the detailed information on the Girard-Perregaux brand and its history. A silly jackpot game also comes with the app, though I think it serves no purpose other than to cheapen the app and the brand.

Finally, a store locator is available to let users choose retailers either from a list of locations or based on proximity. On the list, retailers are grouped by cities, and it is useless to me. I am writing from the dead center of Pennsylvania, and the only city I recognize on the list is Philadelphia, which is a good three hours away! Thankfully, the app is integrated with Google Maps, and using my GPS location reveals a retailer that is much closer to me. Either way, once I know which retailer I want to visit, the app gives me a set of driving, transit or walking directions.

It seems the marketing team at GP has put some thought into creating a unique and sophisticated experience that connects consumers with the brand. Well, iPhone-toting consumers anyway. Apparently they are not interested in reaching out to all the business people carrying Blackberries as well as the iPhone-agnostic masses.

I wish global brand marketers would see that there is more to the smartphone market than just the iPhone.  >.<

Mobile Zen


I came across an ad for the ASUS NX90JQ the other day. It seems ASUS has adopted a “Zen” approach in making computers.

At first glance, the laptop is breathtaking. It is very streamlined, very sleek, truly an exhibition of what it means to be more with less.

Consistent with their new minimalist ideology, the ad reveals little other than telling us that the machine comes equipped with some luxurious speakers by Bang & Olufsen. Fortunately, more information is only a QR away.

Or not.

Upon scanning the code, I got the 404. Perhaps it was because ASUS wanted to stick it to its customers with its Buddhist belief “form is emptiness”; or it could be that part of the URL was missing from the QR link.

I suppose I could have tried to access the website by typing the URL on my phone, but that would be more work than I cared to do.

Broken QR codes are so boring.  *yawn*


Asus NX90JQ